Jean-Paul Sartre's famous quip, "Hell is other people," resonated with disillusionment after the manmade terror of the 20th century, but artists and technologists Louis-Philippe Demers and Bill Vorn think it might actually be made from rivets, pistons, and silicone. Their new project, Inferno, explores a hell run by the dystopian favorite enemy of humanity: robots.
The duo has done a lot of artwork with machines in the past, with each project constantly straddling the fence between pro- and anti-robot positions. One moment, they've created an empathy-generating hell for robots, and in the next robot overlords are hellish in their own right, forcing their inhuman will onto audience members. Their latest creative robotic experiment, Inferno, is the latter. At a glance, the mech suit-like exoskeletons worn by the performers look like something out of Edge of Tomorrow or Armored Trooper VOTOMS, but when it's revealed that the robots—not the humans—are actually in control, the horror becomes clear.
"The machines involved in the performance are retrofitted on the body of raptured audience members cum performers," reads the project description. "The viewers will be free to move or they will be in a partial or entire submission position, forced by the machines to act/react in a certain way. Some mechanical structures will coerce the viewers in performing certain movements; others will induce a physical reaction from them." As someone who generally looks forward to replacing my screen-and-headphone-addled sensory organs with robot parts one day, the prospect of this lack of control is unnerving as hell. Literally:
Inferno was performed at Stéréolux in Nantes and Exit Festival in Créteil earlier this year, allowing the Demers and Vorn to see how their metaphorical interpretation of Dante's story of the same name and the Chinese Buddists' "Ten Courts of Hell" holds up in real life. "In Inferno, the anxiety of the Singularity translates Hell and infinite punishment into a pseudo-model of Infinite Automation and subordination to the machine," they explain. "The unification of man and machine is, in a certain way, an expression of the punishment for the technological sins committed for the sake of progress. The more we blend with technology, the more it drives us through the inner circles of a state of loss."
Obviously there's a lot of debate, both in Demers and Vorn's body of work, and between the scientific and creative communities, about whether robots are friends, foes, or somewhere in between. From the looks on the faces of Inferno's attendees, though, this version of hell rings quite true. There's no fire and brimstone, but rivets and pistons can be just as nightmare-worthy.
See more from Louis-Philippe Demers and Bill Vorn on their website.